20 December 2011

João Cabral de Melo Neto

[from João Cabral de Melo Neto in Twentieth-Century Latin American Poetry, ed. Stephen Tapscott, Texas, 1996]

Weaving the Morning


One rooster does not weave a morning,
he will always need the other roosters,
one to pick up the shout that he
and toss it to another, another rooster
to pick up the shout that a rooster before him
and toss it to another, and other roosters
with many other roosters to criss-cross
the sun-threads of their rooster-shouts
so that the morning, starting from a frail cobweb,
may go on being woven, among all the roosters.


And growing larger, becoming a cloth,
pitching itself a tent where they all may enter,
inter-unfurling itself for them all, in the tent
(the morning) which soars free of ties and ropes –
the morning, tent of a weave so light
that, woven, it lifts itself through itself: balloon light.

tr. Galway Kinnell

João Cabral de Melo Neto

05 December 2011

Alice Notley

[from Alice Notley's Culture of One, Penguin, 2011]

Culture of One

Marie made things in the gully: she made her life, sure, more than practically anyone else did, but she wrote things down on paper discarded in the dump and she made figures out of wood and rocks and cord and burntness and whatever. The figures didn't really look like anyone, maybe her a little, and the dogs the same color as everything with wolf mouths, I mean coyote.

Every once in a while a kid burned down her shack, while she was out foraging. Then her works both written and made out of stuff would get burnt. She'd start again. She always remembered how to do it.

Where does culture come from? It comes from the materials you do it with.

When she made the shark out of rotting wood, I guess it was just a fish. A carp, probably, but she called it a shark. She put a little woman in its mouth, but it wasn't her; and it wasn't me, whatever I say. It was the wood calling out. It was just some woman, no it wasn't even a woman.

What are you going to do when they burn up your shack? I don't care, it'll still be great here.

17 November 2011

Marianne Boruch

[from Marianne Boruch's Grace, Fallen From, Wesleyan, 2011]

A Moment

Maybe it's common, this sort
of first meeting. But once, before a guest house
in Germany, the friend
of a friend to come by, and dinner –
that's it, we'll go to dinner, have the famous
spargel, that rare white asparagus, only
in May, our evening pre-arranged by phone,
by email. I need to say again we
hadn't met. Outside I stood
at the door, it being spring, every tree
gloriously poised. And a stranger,
another woman, she too waiting
but near the curb, looking
this way and that, attentive to traffic, hours
from dusk because we were north,
near the sea. And tall, she was towering,
older than I was, hugely
made-up, such meticulous work
behind that elegant finish. Then the friend
of my friend – could that be? –his
parking, his pulling himself
out of that tiny car.
Please understand. I'm usually
right there rushing in, because the world
requires that, loves the quickening
of that. But I was
or I wasn't. Or I was small
but there is smaller. To my left, a door.
Some tree flowering at my right.
I watched as he
to that woman said my name
so charmingly, a question, tilting
his head, are you . . . ? sorry to disturb,
are you . . . ? And in that pause –
her vague focusing on him, her loose
finding him now – I leaned forward,
simply curious: what
would she say? smile? yes? tell him yes?
So the thread breaks. So water in a glass
clouds and maybe clears.
So I waited, giving up
everything, to anyone,
just like that.

Marianne Boruch

30 October 2011

Octavio Paz

[from Octavio Paz's The Collected Poems of Octavio Paz: 1957-1987, ed. Eliot Weinberger, New Directions, 1990]


         "Thunder and wind: duration."
                                              I Ching


Sky black
                Yellow earth
The rooster tears the night apart
The water wakes and asks what time it is
The wind wakes and asks for you
A white horse goes by


As the forest in its bed of leaves
you sleep in your bed of rain
you sing in your bed of wind
your kiss in your bed of sparks


Multiple vehement odor
many-handed body
On an invisible stem a single


Speak listen answer me
what the thunderclap
says, the woods


I enter by your eyes
you come forth by my mouth
You sleep in my blood
I waken in your head


I will speak to you in stone-language
(answer with a green syllable)
I will speak to you in snow-language
(answer with a fan of bees)
I will speak to you in water-language
(answer with a canoe of lightning)
I will speak to you in blood-language
(answer with a tower of birds)

         – translated by Denise Levertov


         "Trueno y viento: duración."
                                              I Ching


Negro el cielo
                      Amerilla la tierra
El gallo desgarra la noche
El agua se levanta y pregunta la hora
El viento se levanta y pregunta por ti
Pasa un caballo blanco


Como el bosque en su lecho de hojas
tú duermes en tu lecho de lluvia
tú cantas en tu lecho de viento
tú besas en tu lecho de chispas


Olor vehemencia numerosa
cuerpo de muchas manos
Sobre un tallo invisible
una sola blancura


Habla escucha respóndeme
lo que dice el trueno
lo comprende el bosque


Entro por tus ojos
sales por mi boca
Duermes en mi sangre
despierto en tu frente


Te hablaré un lenguaje de piedra
(respondes con un monosílabo verde)
Te hablaré un lenguaje de nieve
(respondes con un abanico de abejas)
Te hablaré un lenguaje de agua
(respondes con una canoa de relámpagos)
Te hablaré un lenguaje de sangre
(respondes con una torre de pájaros)

Octavio Paz, 1936

22 October 2011

César Vallejo

[from César Vallejo's Complete Poetry: A Bilingual Edition, ed./tr. Clayton Eshleman, University of California, 2007]

Distant Footsteps

      My father is asleep. His august face
expresses a peaceful heart;
he is now so sweet . . .
if there is anything bitter in him, it must be me.

      There is loneliness in the house; there is prayer;
and no news of the children today.
My father stirs, sounding
the flight into Egypt, the styptic farewell.
He is now so near;
if there is anything distant in him, it must be me.

      My mother walks in the orchard,
savoring a savor now without savor.
She is so soft,
so wing, so gone, so love.

      There is loneliness in the house with no bustle,
no news, no green, no childhood.
And if there is something broken this afternoon,
something that descends and that creaks,
it is two old white, curved roads.
Down them my heart makes its way on foot.

Los Pasos Lejanos

      Mi padre duerme. Su semblante augusto
figura un apacible corazón;
está ahora tan dulce . . .
si hay algo en él de amargo, seré yo.

      Hay soledad en el hogar; se reza;
y no hay noticias de los hijos hoy.
Mi padre se despierta, ausculta
la huida a Egipto, el restañante adiós.
Está ahora tan cerca;
si hay algo en él de lejos, seré yo.

      Y mi madre pasea allá en los huertos,
saboreando un sabor ya sin sabor.
Está ahora tan suave,
tan ala, tan salida, tan amor.

      Hay soledad en el hogar sin bulla,
sin noticias, sin verde, sin niñez.
Y si hay algo quebrado en esta tarde,
y que baja y que cruje,
son dos viejos caminos blancos, curvos.
Por ellos va mi corazón a pie.

César Vallejo

07 October 2011

Joanna Catherine Scott

[from Joanna Catherine Scott & John Lee Conaway's An Innocent in the House of the Dead, Main Street Rag, 2011]

In Which You Tell Me You Have Set Islam Aside . . .

I used to dream, you say, that one day
I would take a pilgrimage to Mecca,

but I have given Islam up,
I have taken my name off all the lists,

I no longer go to pray.
Although I pray to Allah in my heart,

I thank him for the Qur'an,
which I also have inside my heart.

Get knowledge and understanding,
it instructs me.

And so I read and read and think,
and argue with myself, and others too,

and have become a wiser person
on account of it.

Which is why I have set Islam aside.
What point is there,

I came to understand,
in fighting with an enemy

who has the upper hand?
What point in setting myself up

for persecution by the guards and wardens
because I wear the Muslim cap

and fast for Ramadan?
A man must act upon his wisdom.

So I have set aside the kufi.
I do not abase myself.

I have light within me, though.
They cannot take that away.

. . . And I Drive Home in the Rain

The fallen sky laying itself out
and laying itself out along the road

like grey-clad pilgrims
abasing themselves full-length

and rising,
and then the abasement

and the rising up again,
end-to-ending themselves

like inchworms inching their way
across grey countryside

toward the holy city,
pelted on, and blown up

into a thousand falling fragments
by lumbering grey trucks.

Gathering themselves together.
Shaking off the insult.

Rising and abasing.
Rising and abasing.

And being blessed for it.
And being blessed for it.

That glittering
spinning off the wheels.

Joanna Catherine Scott

16 September 2011

Virgil via Kimberly Johnson

[from Virgil's The Georgics: A Poem of the Land, tr. Kimberly Johnson, Penguin, 2009]

Book One [excerpt]

For this the golden sun maintains its orbit
marked through the zodiacal twelve in marches fixed.
Five zones comprise the firmament, of which one ever blushes
under the flaring sun, ever scorched by its fire.
Around this at the poles to right and left stretch
bleak zones, ice-crusted and dark with storms.
Between the ice and middle fire, two zones to frail humanity
by grace of God are granted. A path cuts through them both
on which oblique the ranks of constellations spin.
As the earth surges steeply up to Scythia
and the Rhipean crags, so it sinks sloping to Libya's south.
The zenith ever vaults above us, the nadir
underfoot glowers at inky Styx and shades infernal.
Vast with sinuous coils here glides the Serpent,
weaving like a river round and through the Bears –
two Bears that fear to plunge the ocean's plane.
There, they say, may lurk dank night
and the shadows ever clotting under night's shroud . . .
or else Dawn removes from us, returns their day
and when sunrise with his panting team first breathes
on us, there ruddy Vesper kindles the late hour's lights.
So we can forecast weather though the sky
equivocate, so know the harvest-day, the time to sow,
when to smack with oars the sea's treacherous slate
and when to launch the bristling fleet
or in the woods to topple the ready pine.
Not in vain do we observe the rise and set of signs
and the year, orderly in its four dissimilar seasons.

Liber I [excerpt]

Idcirco certis dimensum partibus orbem
per duodena regit mundi sol aureus astra.
quinque tenent caelum zonae; quarum una corusco
semper sole rubens et torrida semper ab igni;
quam circum extremae dextra laevaque trahuntur
caeruleae, glacie concretae atque imbribus atris;
has inter mediamque duae mortalibus aegris
munere concessae divum, et via secta per ambas,
obliquus qua se signorum verteret ordo.
mundus ut ad Scythiam Rhipaeasque arduus arces
consurgit, premitur Libyae devexus in Austros.
hic vertex nobis semper sublimis; at illum
sub pedibus Styx atra videt Manesque profundi.
maximus hic flexu sinuoso elabitur Anguis
circum perque duas in morem fluminis Arctos,
Arctos Oceani metuentis aequore tingui.
illic, ut perhibent, aut intempesta silet nox,
semper et obtenta densentur nocte tenebrae;
aut redit a nobis Aurora diemque reducit,
nosque ubi primus equis Oriens adflavit anhelis,
illic sera rubens accendit lumina Vesper.
hinc tempestates dubio praediscere caelo 
possumus, hinc messisque diem tempusque serendi,
et quando infidum remis impellere marmor
conveniat, quando armatas deducere classis,
aut tempestivam silvis evertere pinum.
nec frustra signorum obitus speculamur et ortus,
temporibusque parem diversis quattuor annum.

Kimberly Johnson

16 August 2011

James Lord

[from James Lord's My Queer War, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2010]

I went along to the nearby rue Christine, No. 5, to call on Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas. The two women had recently been escorted in an army plane around Germany, Miss Stein making speeches to the troops and posing on the blasted terrace of Hitler's hideaway in Berchtesgaden. The GIs apparently enjoyed Gertrude's no-nonsense, didactic but natural talk, and we were encouraged to consider her a folksy mother of us all. . . .

her rue Christine salon was regularly crowded with eager listeners to the cello voice of that imposing lady. And the presence of all those soldiers, like all the Picassos on the walls, seemed to everyone concerned a delightful and self-evident demonstration of cultural inevitability.

Miss Stein took me by the arm into the entry hall. She had read the play and had clearly read it with care. "Your writing reads well," she said, "and maybe someday writing will be a reality for you, and I have one piece of advice to give you that every writer who is going to be a real writer must be given sometime by somebody, and it is to consider your emotions more carefully. A real writer must be very sure of his emotions before putting a pen to paper, so that is what I advise you to do, to consider your emotions more carefully." . . .

Miss Stein returned with Basket on a leash . . . she spoke of the GIs who were already being shipped from home for discharge. Their visits had begun to weary her, but she was sorry to see them go. And sorry for them as well, she added, because never again in their lives would they be so happy.

At that moment there was hardly an American in uniform who didn't long to shed it as quickly as possible. We were sick of the army, sick of the war and its stresses and qualms. I disagreed with Miss Stein and said so.

She stopped abruptly and faced me on the sidewalk in the sun. Repeating what she'd already said, she dogmatically added that war possesses an irresistible appeal for young soldiers caused by the thrill of a superhuman power to kill with impunity, and because of it, because of the naive confidence that no harm can come to them, they have at their fingertips a greater power than ever in their lives they will wield again, and they are like bloodthirsty gods united in the climactic comradeship of killing, and that is why they will never again be so happy.

I was indignant at the pontifical self-assurance of the lady, solid as cement in her tweed suit, and I once more said that I disagreed with her.

She said it didn't matter because I was too young, too inexperienced, and too obutse in my emotions to realize she was right.

I stood there. I was transfixed. And then I said she was not right, she was wrong, she was a stupid old woman and didn't understand anything.

I turned away. Without waiting for her to answer, I turned away abruptly and left her standing there in the street with her white dog on the leash, walked to the rue des Grands Agustins without once glancing back, went around the corner, and I never saw Gertrude Stein again. . . .

I was shaken with anger at having been talked down to by an elderly woman. But I realized she'd been amazingly prescient and had understood the true facts of life of fighting men as well as I did, though she had never faced artillery fire or faced a Nazi tank. My irritation wanted to be vindicated even at the cost of making Miss Stein appear to have been in the wrong. So I climbed the staircase to Picasso's studio and rang the bell. He opened a crack and asked what I wanted at that inconvenient hour. When I replied that his friend Gertrude was talking nonsense, the door swung wide, and he beckoned me inside, saying to tell all, tell all. I may have fiddled with the truth, but this suited Picasso, who muttered, That slut! That pig! He said she'd always been a Fascist, had a weakness for Franco. For Pétain too. Imagine. An American. A Jew. Fat as a pig; once sent him a photo of herself standing in front of an auto, and you couldn't see the auto she was so fat. As for Toklas, that little witch, why does she wear her hair in bangs? Picasso laughed out loud. She had had a horn in the middle of her forehead. A growth like a rhinoceros. So they made the ideal couple, the hippopotamus and the rhinoceros. But then Alice had the horn cut off and her bangs are supposed to cover up the hole. And Gertrude Stein talks about my pictures as if she'd painted them herself.

His laughter suddenly ceased. He shook himself like a bather who has just emerged from ice-cold water, turned away from me, saying he had important things to do upstairs, I would have to leave.

Click here for more on Lord, Giacometti, others.

James Lord by Balthus

31 July 2011

Robert Duncan

[from The Letters of Robert Duncan and Denise Levertov, ed. Robert J. Bertholf & Albert Gelpi, Stanford, 2004]

[Duncan to Levertov, 13 May 1963]

convention as "form" =

goes along with the natural is formless; man puts the world in order//or(2) with God formed the world as a paradigm in the beginning and disorder enterd thru man's sin. Only by conventicle, good behaviour, does man return to the lost order. A poem (subject always to man's sinfulness) attempts to atone by obedience to prescription. Here freedom = (a) disorder or (b) sin.

organism as "form" =

all experience is formal – We feel things at all only in so far as we awake to the form. Here the form of the poem is the feeling (and where form fails, feeling fails). "Inner" and "outer" are, if we could grasp the terms of cosmic form, in tune. We have only to discover the scale (so here I am organic as well as linguistic).

"linguistic" form =

the artist uses language to make forms, and in this he [is] in a creature/creator relation to a god who is also creature/creator of the whole. Where "organic" poetry refers to personal emotions and impressions – the concourse between organism and his world: the linguistic follows emotions and images that appear in the language itself as a third "world;" true to what is happening in the syntax as another man might be true to what he sees or feels.

free verse =

the poem does not find or make but expresses, and the poem has its virtue in the ecstatic state or emotional state aroused by rhythms and rime even, where the poet can pour forth what he feels//and/or God speaks thru the poet once his voice is free. Here form = restriction I'm thinking of a Hassidic interpretation of the law against making a graven image meaning that speech should not be made in that sense but speak from the heart. Free verse just doesn't believe in the struggle of rendering in which not only the soul but the world must enter into the conception of the poem. Experience is an engagement and responsibility to outer as well as inner.

Two forms of free verse would be Amy Lowell's impressionism and Ginsberg's "Howl."

[Duncan to Levertov, 28 November 1961]

You see you have three presences for me, Denny, that touch the deepest life feeling. One is the Denise I have been able openly to speak of, the companion in art – where in certain poems of yours, by grace of your “poet,” I am brought into that heart of life that poetry opens: then this poet you are I love because you are most true. No . . . it seems more that through loving this you so I come to love what is most true. And then, sometimes you are a poetic conscience for me. Not that my truth will be like yours – but that just where I fail my own poet, I betray this love.

Then there is, related, another presence: an idea of you or something you mean to me – yet it also seems to be really you and to reach the heart. I am troubled here, Denise, to make it clear, but just as my poet has existed in the light of your poet, my self does. And the "to thine own self be true" has existed, for always now it seems, as if that meant being true in your eyes. So I am always just that shy of, just that troubled in thinking of your love or mine because so often I seem to fail so miserably to "be myself." Maybe, I wanted to say "Be loyal to my self" but also "love me as I am not my self."

The third is just your real actual presence, where I have never felt these ghosts of conscience. When I've been with you, Denny, you are at last just you and I could no possibly not be just me as I am. That's what I did want to write most – how real all the rest is – but the pure joy, all the ever-lasting delight of these times in my life when I am actually with you.

Robert Duncan, Yosemite Park, 1922

23 July 2011

Elena Milán

[from Elena Milán @ Mouth to Mouth: Poems by Twelve Contemporary Mexican Women, ed. Forrest Gander, Milkweed, 1993]

Alucinación I

Supongamos que una zona del mundo se ha unido
del Atlántico al Pacifico,
de Portugal al Japón;
desde el Mediterráneo y Mar del Norte,
al Artico hacia el este.
Supongamos que soplan mitos extraños
desde las viejas cavernas de Altamira
y las ruinas del Turkistán,
algo así como naves vikingas
y nuevas leyendas de tártaros y samurais.
Supongamos que el gobierno yanki no les gusta
y deciden desestabilizarlo.

Hallucination I

Let's supose a zone of the world falls together
from Atlantic to Pacific,
from Portugal to Japan;
from the Mediterranean to the North Sea
to the eastern Arctic.
Let's suppose strange myths lift
from the ancient caves of Altamira
and the ruins of Turkistan,
something like Viking ships
and fresh legends of Tartars and samurai.
Let's suppose the Yankee government doesn't please them
and they decide to destabilize it.

tr. Forrest Gander

17 July 2011

Denise Levertov

[from Denise Levertov's Collected Earlier Poems, 1940-1960, New Directions. 1979]


Under the harvest sun the heart
ripens on its wall,
under the heat of noon the mind
like a leaf is cool.
The angelus and the goatbell
sway across the grass;
butterflies in blue mid-air
touch and spin apart.
Any attempted dream must fall
to ruin in this light, must pass
before the mocking glance
of idle animals.
There is no need to escape
from the motionless mountain
there is no need to escape
when here the indifferent lake
accepts a nervous image,
demands no affirmation
of innocence or faith.

Switzerland, 1946

A Dream of Cornwall

Footprint of fury quiet, now, on the salt sand
hills couched like hares in the blue grass of the air
water lifting its glass . . .


Kresch's Studio

Easels: a high & bare room:
some with charcoal, one with a brush,
some with loud pens in the silence,
at work. The woman
in taut repose, intent:

under violent light that pulls
the weight of the breasts to answer the long
shadow of thighs,
confronts angles with receding
planes, makes play with elements.

That they work, that she will not move too soon,
opposes (as Bartok's plucked strings oppose)
the grinding, grinding, grinding of lives,
pounding constant traffic.

On paper, on canvas, stroke, stroke: a counterpoint:
an energy opposing
the squandered energy.

New York, early '50's

Tomatlan (Variations)

. . .


The green palmettos of the
blue jungle
shake their
green breasts, their stiff
green hair –
the wind, the sea wind is come
and touches them
lightly, and strokes them, and
screws them, until they
are blue flames,
green smoke, and
screws them again.


At the touch
of the sea wind
              the palms
shake their green breasts, their

              rustling fingers –
flames of desire and pleasure. . . .

Denise Levertov

11 July 2011

François Rabelais

[from François Rabelais, Gargantua, tr. Thomas Urquhart, Peter Antony Motteux, 1500s]

There he played at flush, at love, at primero, at the chess, at the beast, at Reynard the fox, at the rifle, at the squares, at trump, at the cows, at the prick and spare not, at the lottery, at the hundred, at the chance or mumchance, at the peeny, at three dice or maniest bleaks, at the unfortunate woman, at the tables, at the fib, at nivinivinack, at the pass ten, at the lurch, at one-and-thirty, at doublets or queen’s game, as post and pair, or even at the faily sequence, at the French tric-trac, at three hundred, at the long tables or ferkeering, at the unlucky man, at feldown, at the last couple in hell, at tod’s body, at the hock, at needs must, at the surly, at the dames or draughts, at the lansquenet, at bob and mow, at the cuckoo, at primus secundus, at puff, or let him speak that hath it, at mark-knife, at the keys, at take nothing and throw out, at span-counter, at the marriage, at even or odd, at the frolic or jackdaw, at cross or pile, at the opinion, at ball and huckle-bones, at who doth the one, doth the other, at ivory balls, at the billiards, at the sequences, at bob and hit, at the ivory bundles, at the owl, at the tarots, at the charming of the hare, at losing load him, at pull yet a little, at he’s gulled and esto, at trudgepig, at the torture, at the magatapies, at the handruff, at the horn, at the click, at the flowered or Shrovetide ox, at honours, at the madge-owlet, at pinch without laughing, at tilt at weeky, at prickle me tickle me, at ninepins, at the unshoeing of the ass, at the cock quintin, at the cocksess, at tip and hurl, at hari hohi, at the flat bowls, at I set me down, at the veer and turn, at earl beardy, at rogue and ruffian, at the old mode, at bumbatch touch, at draw the spit, at the mysterious trough, at put out, at the short bowls, at gossip lend me your sack, at the dapple-grey, at the ramcod ball, at cock and crank it, at thrust out the harlot, at break-pot, at Marseilles figs, at my desire, at nicknamry, at twirly whirlytrill, at stick and hole, at the rush bundles, at boke or him or flaying the fox . . .

François Rabelais, 1494-1553

04 July 2011

Denise Levertov

[from Denise Levertov's Selected Poems, New Directions, 2002]

Relearning the Alphabet

(June, 1968 – April, 1969)

For G. who could not help it, I. who saw me, R who read me, and M. for everything.

"The treasure . . . lies buried. There is no need to seek it in a distant counter . . . It is behind the stove, the center of the life and warmth that rule our existence, if only we knew how to unearth it. And yet – there is this strange and persistent fact, that it is only after . . . a journey in a distant region, in a new land, that . . . the inner voice . . . can make itself understood by us. And to this strange and persistent face is added another: that he who reveals to us the meaning of our . . . inward pilgrimage must be himself a stranger"
                    – Heinrich Zimmer


Joy – a beginning.          anguish, ardor.
To relearn the ah! of knowing in unthinking
joy: the belovéd stranger lives.
Sweep up anguish as with a wing-tip,
brushing the ashes back to the fire’s core.


To be. To love an other only for being.


Clear, cool? Not those evasions. The seeing
that burns through, comes through to
the fire’s core.


In the beginning was delight. A depth
stirred as one stirs fire unthinking.
Dark    dark    dark    . And the blaze illumines


returning, endless
revolution of dream to ember, ember to anguish,
anguish to flame, flame to delight,
delight to dark and dream, dream to ember


that the mind’s fire may not fail.
The vowels of affliction, of unhealed
not to feel it, uttered,
transformed in utterance
to song.
              Not farewell, not farewell, but faring


forth into the grace of transformed
continuance, the green meadows
of Grief-Dale where joy grew, flowering
close to the ground, old tales recount,


and may be had yet for the harvesting.

I, J

Into the world of continuance, to find
I-who-I-am again, who wanted
to enter a life not mine,
                       to leap a wide, deep, swift river.

At the edge, I stand yet. No, I am moving away,
walking away from the unbridged rush of waters towards
‘Imagination’s holy forest,’ meaning to thread its ways,
                                                  that are dark,
and come to my own clearing, where ‘dreamy, gloomy,
friendly trees’ grow, one by one – but
                         I’m not looking where I’m going,
                         my head’s turned back, to see
                                 whom I called ‘jester’: someone dreamed
                         on the far bank: not dreamed, seen
in epiphany, as Picasso’s bronze Head of a Jester
was seen.
                 I go stumbling
                                           (head turned)
                                                                    back to my origins:
(if that’s where I’m going)
                                              to joy, my Jerusalem.
Weeping, gesturing,
I’m a small figure in mind’s eye,
diminishing in the sweep of rain or gray tears
that cloud the far shore as jealous rage
clouds love and changes it, changes vision.


Caritas is what I must travel to.
Through to the fire’s core,
an alchemy:
                      caritas, claritas.
But find my face clenched
when I wake at night
                                      in limbo.


Back there forgetting, among the
letters        folded and put away.
Not uttered.
                      ‘The feel of
not to feel it
was never said . . .’ Keats said.
‘Desolation . . . Absence an absolute
                calling forth . . .’ the jester said
from the far shore (‘gravely, ringing his bells,
a tune of sorrow.’ I dance to it?)
‘You are offhand. The trouble
is concealed? Isak said,
calling me forth.
I am called forth
from time to time.

I was in the time
of desolation.
What light is it
waking me?
                      Absence has not become
a presence.
                    Lost in the alphabet
                    I was looking for
                    the word I can’t now say
           and am called forth
           unto the twelfth letter
           by the love in a question.


Honest man, I wanted
                        the moon and went
                        out to sea to touch
                        the moon and

                        down a lane of bright
                        broken vanishing
                        curled pyramids of
                        towards the moon
                and touched
                the   luminous dissolving
                half moon

I am
come back,
humbled, to warm myself,
honest man,

our bed is
                  upon the earth
your soul is
                     in your body
your mouth
                     has found
my mouth once more
– I’m home.


Something in me that wants to cling
to never,
              wants to have been
              wounded deeper
              burned by the cold moon to cinder,

shrinks as the disk
dwindles to vision
                                 numb not to continuance
                                 but to that source
                                 of mind’s fire

                                 waning now,
                                 no doubt to wax again –

                                 yet I perhaps not be there
                                 in its light.


Hostile.             Ordinary.             Home.
Order.              Alone.            Other.

Hostile longing.            Ordinary rose, omnivorous.
                            Home, solitude.

Somnolence grotto.
Caught. Lost. Orient almost,
Own.        Only.

Pain recedes, rising from heart to head
and out.

                       Apple thunder, rolling over the
attic floor.
                               Yet I would swear
                               there had been savage light
                               moments before.

P, Q

In childhood dream-play I was always
the knight or squire, not
the lady:
quester, petitioner, win or lose, not
she who was sought.
The initial of quest or question
branded itself long since on the flank
of my Pegasus.
Yet he flies always
home to the present.


Released through bars of sorrow
as if not a gate had opened but I
grown intangible had passed through, shadowy,
from dark of yearning into
a soft day, western March;
a thrust of birdsong
parts the gold flowers thickbranching
that roof the path over.

Arms enfold me
tenderly. I am trusted, I trust
the real that transforms me.
                                                 And relinquish
                                                 in grief
the seeing that burns through, comes through
to fire’s core:   transformation, continuance,
                        as acts of magic I would perform, are no longer
                        articles of faith.


Or no: it
slowly becomes known to me:
articles of faith are indeed
rules of will – graceless,
The door I flung my weight against
was constructed to open       out
                                                  towards me.
In seeing
to candleflame’s
blue ice-cavern, measureless,

may not be forced by sharp
            The Prince
            turns in the wood:    ‘Retrace
                                                thy steps, seek out
            the hut you passed, impatient,
            the day you lost your quarry.

            There dwells
            a secret. Restore to it
            its life.
            You will not recognize
            your desire until
            thou hast it fast, it goeth
            aside, it hath
            the cunning of quicksilver.’

I turn in the forest.
About me the tree-multitudes
twist their roots in earth
to rip it, draw

hidden rivers up into
Their crowns in the light sway
green beyond vision.
                                     All utterance
takes me step by hesitant step towards


– yes, to continuance: into
                                              that life beyond the dead-end where
(in a desert time of
dry strange heat, of dust
that tinged mountain clouds with copper,
turn of the year impending unnoticed,
the cactus shadows brittle thornstars,
time of
desolation)                                                      I was lost.

The forest is holy.
The sacred paths are of stone.
A clearing.
The altars are shifting deposits of pineneeedles,
                         hidden water,
                         streets of choirwood,
not what the will
thinks to construct for its testimonies.


Relearn the alphabet,
relearn the world, the world
understood anew only in doing, under-
stood only as
looked-up-into out of earth,
the heart an eye looking,
the heart a root
planted in earth.
Transmutation is not
under the will’s rule.


Vision sets out
journeying somewhere,
walking the dreamwaters:
not on the far shore but upriver,
a place not evoked, discovered.


Heart breaks but mends
like good bone.
It’s the vain will
wants to have been wounded deeper,
burned by the cold moon to cinder.

Wisdom’s a stone
dwells in forgotten pockets –
lost, refound, exiled –
revealed again
in the palm of
mind’s hand, moonstone
of wax & want, stone pulse.


Vision will not be used.
Yearning will not be used.
Wisdom will not be used.
Only the vain will
strives to use and be used,
comes not to fire’s core
but cinder.


Sweep up
anguish as with a wing-tip:

the blaze addresses
a different darkness:
absence has not become
the transformed presence the will
looked for,
but other: the present,

that which was poised already in the ah! of praise.

Denise Levertov